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Arsenal is not the only loser in Alexis Sánchez’s move to Man United

When a super star is sold in January, everyone involved in the deal should be concerned. Even when at the buying club the transfer could be seen as rescuing the season, it shows clear cracks in its structure. For the selling club the consequences are dreadful too.

Let’s start with Arsenal. There is little chance of finding a worse managed club right now in England. Last summer, when Alexis Sánchez entered in the final season of his current deal and Arsène Wenger’s contract was extended (a very regrettable move on its own), that was the moment when all parties should had sat down and made a decision. The right one.

Perhaps PSG would rather have paid £60 million for Alexis than £198 million for Neymar if they’d been given the opportunity. For Arsenal, it was shameful not to sell a player who in a year’s time was going to walk out for free and might not feel 100 per cent committed during the campaign. They opted for keeping the player and dreaming about a contract extension only to end up losing the asset five months later. Stubborn thinking led to poor planning.

Alexis has clearly not been happy at Arsenal for a long time and he knows he won’t get the titles he’s aiming for there. It seems his agent hasn’t done a good job either, leaving him to see his contract expire at a club where he doesn’t want to stay. If he had truly fancied a move, a number of big clubs would have queued up for his signature. But in the summer they waited for the magic to happen on deadline day and they found themselves short of time to complete it.

For the player, switching clubs in January isn’t the best move from either psychological or sporting standpoints. Mourinho has chaotically and unsuccessfully tried to find Manchester United’s best football for the second season running and the environment right now at Old Trafford puts a hell of lot of pressure on any new addition to the squad. There’s no transition, no way to work out a smooth introduction to the team. Alexis will be thrown to the dogs and judged mercilessly if he fails to deliver. Time for him to adapt? ZERO.

For the same reason his arrival could be painful for United. This deal, done in a rush, requiring a player to go in the opposite direction, only shows Mourinho’s and Manchester United’s lack of vision and success in the previous transfer windows, despite being very active in the market.

It shows too how desperate Mourinho is about matching his city rival’s spending to enable them to fight them for the Premier League title (the next one), but he’s not thriving with his already packed squad nor carving out his own success. He doesn’t want to build his own football; he prefers to buy it done.

Alexis Sánchez move from Arsenal to Manchester United is therefore a clear symptom of weakness in all the entities involved in the deal and will decisively alter the conpeting forces for the Champions League spots.

The real fee received by the selling club will be marginal compared to what they could have got if business had been done at the right moment, while the buying one is already paying the ridiculous high price of needing a product out of the bargain season. In six months this same asset could have been landed at no cost. It’s an unmistakeable sign that they are all losers.

Alejandro Pérez is a Premier League expert, commentator, and the author of ‘More than 90 minutes’, the first football book of its kind, available here.

Stoke City exposed the biggest mistake Mourinho is doing right now at Man United

Mourinho has already crossed the Equator of his second season at Old Trafford and we all still wonder: Has he found Manchester United’s best football? Where is his team going in terms of performance and titles?

The former question has an easy answer, NO, while the latter perhaps doesn’t have a clear one, which is the same than going nowhere. No matter how much he has strenghtened every position of his side, the finished product is far from being what expected for such a club, such spending and… such a manager?

If Manchester United play poor football, or doesn’t get results, there is little to look outside, it’s Mourinho’s and his players’ responsibility in its entirety.

While the attack most of the times depends on the strickers’ form and the ability of the attacking midfielders to create goalscoring opportunities, and a manager cannot prevent “childish mistakes” like the one that allowed Leicester City to equalise the last match before Christmas, the midfield engine of a team is the area under the manager’s biggest influence.

Which players to play, which positions to cover, what system to use. All this is designed by the gaffer and the team’s performance is rarely inmune to how good or how bad the midfield controls a game.

On New Year’s Day at Goodison Park, Mourinho decided to play a three-man midfield made of Nemanja Matić, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera. This allowed Pogba to play more freely behind the attacking players, to actively manage transitions and to boss the game. United won 2-0 in one of their best displays of the season.

However, this Monday at home against Stoke City, Mourinho felt United was going to have a more comfortable game and decided to employ four attacking players, meaning Pogba had to drop deeper. This has been a constant pattern since they both arrived at Old Trafford a year and half ago, even though Pogba shone at Juventus playing in a three-man midfield without being too defensively overloaded.

Stoke created many opportunities in the first half out of quick transitions because of Pogba’s involvement in attack and the spaces created around Matić. In more than one occasion, Juan Mata was found closer to the defenders than Pogba himself.

Perhaps Mourinho’s other options in midfield don’t have his entire confidence, -Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini-, but where is his ability to improve a player’s performance and get both the best result for the player and the team? Oh no, I had forgotten that Mourinho is not anymore a player developer, just a player signer, user and seller if they don’t live up to expectations.

Playing Pogba in a two-man midfield is only wasting the record fee paid for him and the chance to use his full potential to create a core at United that controls games and produces the spark they have been missing for half a decade now.

Alejandro Pérez is a Premier League expert, commentator and the author of the book ‘More than 90 minutes’, available here.

Spurs are the team that is suffering the most how ruthless the Premier League is

For Tottenham Hotspur it hasn’t been enough to be the team with the most successful progression in the Premier League in the last three seasons. They have been the steadiest side since Mauricio Pochettino was appointed in 2014, both in league positions and style of play, but the title is still elusive.

Pochettino has polished a Spurs team that craves possession, but is also able to mount deadly counterattacks, that is extremely solid in defence and have top players at almost all positions, from captain and nearly perfect Hugo Lloris in the goal, to one of the most prolific strikers in the world, Harry Kane.

But even though their squad has little to envy to those of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, they are always short of breath in the race for the title and this season the hopes are already gone.

Two seasons ago

When all big clubs entered in a collective slump and Leicester City managed to keep their pace to win the title, Spurs were the last team to surrender chasing Foxes. They couldn’t capitalise on the very unlikely scenario that campaign posed, were surpassed by Arsenal in the final day of the season and lost the second place.

However the seed was growing, Spurs were building a very enjoyable side, able to beat their top rivals and giving their players the taste that they could achieve big things at White Hart Lane and they shouldn’t look anywhere else. (Except Kyle Walker, of course)

Last season

The fact Chelsea weren’t involved in European competitions conspired against Tottenham’s busy schedule and their poor performance that dumped them out of the Champions League in the group stage and the Europa League in the first knockout round.

In the league they remained solid, better than Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and for the first time in two decades, Arsenal. But Chelsea stayed stronger and the trophy went West London rather than North London.

This season

With Chelsea involved in the Champions League and having seen the lack of progress both clubs of Manchester showed in the previous campaign, Spurs title hopes seemed brighter than ever before the start of this season. But Wembley has played its ugly part again and mid-January they sit in the fifth position of the table. Right now even a Champions League spot remains under serious doubt.

For one reason or another, in one season or the other, Tottenham have lacked the complete package needed to give their fans the trophy that’s missing from their cabinet for more than half-century. Their progression has been constant, but you do nothing getting 85 points in every season if another team, no matter if different, always manages to get 90.

Next season

Right now in terms of fighting for the title there is little to do for Spurs. Manchester City seem unstoppable and even if they weren’t there are four teams for Tottenham to surpass with only half season ahead, including City.

The success Spurs have achieved under Pochettino has raised the expectations deposited on them, something that has increased too the pressure they work under. Now they are expected not to content with a Champions League spot, playing entertaining football and make a huge profit out of the sale of a world class player, but to use those fantastic players in the pursuit of the crown.

The stadium debt is still a ghost that poses a big concern over the club and the departure of more star players could be an option come the summer. Spurs, sadly, might end this fancy spell without winning the title, feeling as anyone else how ruthless the Premier League is.

Alejandro Pérez is a Premier League expert, commentator and the author of the book ‘More than 90 minutes’, available here.

Philippe Coutinho’s saga is defining what Liverpool is as a club

At Liverpool it seems that they are not seriously interested in winning the Premier League title and they just operate to please the crowd and enjoy the ride. But a club that has spent 28 years without that trophy cannot be so oblivious to the reality in front of their eyes.

A team that wants to be considered again one of the top candidates in its country cannot be harassed the way Liverpool was over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer. A big club may sell their biggest players, that’s not a rarity in football and may happen for a number of reasons, but not over a saga that involves a more powerful club perennially distressing them about the sale.

Have you ever thought why Barcelona was so focused in signing Coutinho and perhaps no other good attacking player in the Premier League? Just because they know Liverpool are “weak” and the chances they had to sign that player were bigger than if they had attacked a star at Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City. It happened almost four years ago with Luis Suárez and why not to give a go again?

Barcelona is a top club in Europe that has had some of the best players in the world over the last three decades, but they have a problem: they never signed a super star player from another super star club. All their golden footballers (Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Xavi, Iniesta, Eto’o, Messi, Henry, Neymar, Suárez) have come either from teams not in the European elite or the youth academy.

The closest they have been to poach a top player from a top club is perhaps Zlatan Ibrahimovic after they won the treble in 2009, but that happened just the season before Inter Milan won their own treble and briefly entered in a higher strength tier in continental football. At that time Inter was still just ‘another Liverpool’ or ‘another Arsenal’.

For example, the signing of a Zinedine Zidane, a Ruud van Nistelrooy or a Cristiano Ronaldo, all at their prime, from powerhouses like Juventus or Manchester United never happened at Can Barça.

Of course at Liverpool they are interested in keeping their best players, those that have adapted to their playing philosophy and can guide them to be crowned champions again, but the image the club is portraying is that of an easy pray fearing predators higher up in the signing chain.

When Liverpool make themselves respected and not bullied over a player transfer then they will be in a better position to fight for the Premier League title. Curiously perhaps only winning the title will help them gain that respect.

Alejandro Pérez is a Premier League expert, commentator, and the author of ‘More than 90 minutes’, the first football book of its kind, available here.

Mourinho’s lack of happiness with his squad is a lack of self-happiness

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Mourinho’s reaction to Manchester United’s surrender in injury time at Leicester a couple of weeks ago showed his true inner-self again. The one that cannot stop criticising his players (luckily that time there was no referee to point a finger at) and tries to leave the impression his ideas are never at fault, but the interpretation of them by the men on the pitch are solely the responsible for losing points.

His approach at the King Power Stadium that day has little to blame though. Indeed Leicester’s first goal occurred when almost all Manchester United had packed the opposition box and were punished on a Foxes-like counterattack. Awareness was the key factor missing. This time it wasn’t the case of a shy team that was retained in its own half fearing the worst when they lost possession.

That day we all knew the players let him down with “childish decisions” in front of goal and making a “joke” when organising to defend the last ball of the match, but one way or another the outcome didn’t vary that much compared to the ones against Manchester City and Bristol City before that game and the two other draws afterwards.

Agains Everton in the last Premier League match, Manchester United were rescued by the amazing goals scored by Martial and Lingard, otherwise another single point might have been picked.

Mourinho expects to have true leaders in his side who could cope with moments of great responsibility when, like he says, he cannot stop the game and give a team talk for the last two minutes. With a John Terry at the heart of the defense, he might think, Leicester’s equaliser would have never been conceded, or with Azpilicueta on the pitch then Riyad Mahrez wouldn’t have had the chance to run so freely in Foxes first goal.

Mourinho has his pre-designed style carved through the years, one that has turned closed-minded, and he believes playing that way he can win the Premier League title as he did in his second spell at Chelsea. However, he is starting to feel the players he has at his disposal at United don’t fit that approach and they are going nowhere. That’s why he has started to complain about Manchester City being able to pay higher transfers fees, despite United’s vast resources at his disposal.

There is a big component of lack of self-happiness in lacking that same joy about a squad filled with his signings, that surely might practice a better and more rewarding football than the one that left them in the sixth position last season and has them now 15 points behind leaders Manchester City.

If Mourinho were not so unhappy with his recent past he would feel more in the position of finding his previous-self, the one that adapted at Inter Milan and Real Madrid when things were not going according to plan and switched the way they attacked and defended to become league champions.

But the post-derby episode, when he couldn’t resist Manchester City players celebrate the win, shows clearly he cannot give others what he lacks in first place. He is feeling closer than anyone else the impact of Guardiola’s success and that’s tearing him away.

The least we should expect to happen is a change in Mourinho’s ideas. He no longer practices that free-flowing football his first Chelsea team were known for, let alone the ultra-offensive line-ups he employed at Inter Milan in his second and last season to secure a treble. Right now Mourinho is a one-plan man and if his players don’t align accordingly, he will just try to replace them.

But the clock is ticking. He won’t have the same seven years Sir Alex Ferguson had to win his first league title and even though this is not perhaps the set of players he would like to have, it’s the one he needs to try to be champion with. That he will follow this or not is a different story.

Alejandro Pérez is the author of the book “More than 90 minutes”, where you can find deep analysis about Europe’s most important teams and managers. It is available here in the UK: http://amzn.to/2o0jsSD

José Mourinho might repeat this season one of his most amazing achievements

Is not a secret that José Mourinho has become more a cup-winning manager than a league-winning manager. Since he left Inter Milan in 2010 to manage Real Madrid he only won two league titles, one at the Spanish capital in 2012 amidst his brave feud with Pep Guardiola, and one during his ill-fated second spell at Chelsea.

However, in his first season at Manchester United alone he won that same amount of cup trophies, the EFL Cup and the Europa League, securing by winning the latter the Champions League spot that remained elusive via the league.

This season Mourinho might repeat his heroics at Porto where he won the UEFA Cup in 2003 and the main European tournament the following year, only the second manager to achieve it after Liverpool’s legend Bob Paisley did it in 1976 and 1977.

Mourinho’s legacy at Old Trafford will never be compared to that of Paisley at Anfield of course, neither he is demanded the same amount of titles Paisley won in his time, but in his second season in charge at Manchester United the pressure starts building for him to win the important competitions they play in.

Watching Manchester City running away with the Premier League title, Mourinho’s main task right now might be reaching the final that will be played in Kiev in May 26th, a tournament that fits more with his not-playing-not-allowing-to-play style. However, serious continental contenders pose a severe threat for his ambitions.

The first knockout stage draw avoided United big worries in Sevilla, having escaped the likes of Juventus, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, all second-placed teams in their groups. But if they manage to advance to the last eight, the rival to visit will not be in a warm South Spain location.

Even though the Premier League title seems a lost cause for them, finding momentum and confidence in the domestic competition will undeniably help Manchester United in their European adventures. Football is a very motivational game and even if Manchester City will stay unreachable, acquiring a solid style of play will contribute United players to stay mentally strong to face top continental opposition.

Mourinho is an old fox that knows how to carve his way through the big stages and both the pressure and his own relentless pursuit of success (sometimes he stays only in the pursuit phase) might make United reach again the holy final they only played three times in, but they always emerged victorious from.

Why sacking the manager most of the times is THE solution, sadly

It’s very common to see managers sacked around Europe when short term goals are not accomplished. Some leagues offer a bigger margin for the managers to recover, sometimes months, a whole season or even two. However, in others, like the Premier League, five matches without a win could be enough to get the sack.

We can argue that changing the manager repeatedly doesn’t have any impact in the club’s long run and maybe the arriving manager is going to be sacked again soon, like happened with Roberto di Matteo at Chelsea, Tim Sherwood at Spurs, or more recently Craig Shakesperare at Leicester City. That’s a fact, but it’s a fact too that when you need so badly a change in the dressing room, owners and club directors are right in looking only to the present time.

The recent turn in the form of Leicester after Claude Puel’s arrival, the change Real Madrid experimented when Rafael Benítez was sacked and Zinedine Zidane was named coach, and the first victory Borussia Dortmund got after nine matches following Peter Bosz departure demonstrate there is a point in not hesitating too much when making the decision.

The biggest change that occurs when a manager is replaced is not tactical, but motivational. All the players want to perform at their best to be regular starters under the new gaffer and that completely changes the squad’s dynamic. This also proves that football has a huge psychological side, perhaps even bigger than tactical.

Sadly (or not), for the football in general, long term planning is no longer a part of this sport and the mind frame of owners, directors and managers focuses in achieving goals short term and then repeating the cycle after two or three seasons.

The pressure for winning titles, avoiding relegation and being competitive in a world that not only watches football, but also uses it as a big instrument of revenue, has changed the game forever. In the Premier League this transformation has triplicated its speed over a decade by the raising amount of foreign owners that don’t pursue the same goals of the historical local businessmen that once owned British clubs.

If we understand that clubs’ needs right now are very different to those that existed half century ago, then in most of the cases we will then understand why replacing the manager is the right solution.

No matter how good the team has done it in previous seasons with the same boss, in a small club no manager has the absolute power of avoiding relegation in every season. So when a Bournemouth or a Burnley is heading the Championship very dangerously, are we wrong in saying goodbye to Eddie Howe or Sean Dyche?

Not at all. They did their job very well for a number of seasons, but football is not an exact science and somehow it’s out of the managers’ hands keeping forever the same performance that made their teams to practice exciting football and survive.

At Liverpool they don’t seem interested in winning the Premier League title, they are just enjoying the ride

Liverpool haven’t won the title in the Premier League era and right now they seem to have no pressure at all to do it. In fact, Manchester United and Manchester City, who last won it in 2013 and 2014 respectively, seem to be more urged to become English champions.

In this there is a component very related to their managers. José Mourinho conveys the message that losing a match is a catastrophe and that’s why the press gives him that harsh treatment in every conference and every article. In any season, failing to win the title after such big spending is judged as a failure.

Pep Guardiola’s portrait is completely different. But he is so obsessed about perfect football that one tends to think things don’t go to plan when Manchester City finish outside top 1.

But at Liverpool, as a result of a combination of both the club’s present and its manager’s personality, no one puts a single ounce of pressure on Jürgen Klopp’s shoulders.

Liverpool are praised when they play fantastic football, when they hammer their ‘title rivals’ in any given match and when they challenge them too, like it happened in 2014 with Brendan Rodgers’ side. But, is there a feeling that after 28 years of draught they NEED to win the title?

Contradictorily, that’s good for the manager and the players. They can work without the scrutiny of the society and achieve the best results they can week in, week out. The calmer the better.

But that’s bad for everyone in the club too. Playing and managing just to enjoy the ride, making fans happy at times and at others disappointing them is leaving Liverpool behind their potential and responsibility. Now Champions League qualification is not even demanded in every season. It is just deemed as a bonus when they manage to do it.

I still cannot understand why no one in the club, including Klopp, hasn’t realized they are NOT going to win anything important with Simon Mignolet as a goalkeeper and Dejan Lovren as a centre back. In recent years Liverpool have heavily invested in midfielders, wingers and strikers like Adam Lallana, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and more recently Mohamed Salah, but spending in the back line are limited to average players like Joel Matip, Loris Karius, Joe Gomez and Andrew Robertson.

Comparisons are hateful 90% of the times, but if you take a glimpse at the other ‘title rivals’, you will find the likes of John Stones, Nicolás Otamendi, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, something very diferent to Liverpool’s picture of Lovren, Matip and Ragnar Klavan.

Mignolet vs David de Gea, Thibaut Courtois, Ederson and Hugo Lloris is more than a joke.

The frequency by which Mignolet and Lovren make mistakes that cost Liverpool points and wins, like last weekend’s derby against Everton, is a clear evidence that something must change.

But they don’t seem urged too, they don’t see the Premier League title as something they are obliged to fight for. They are just pleasing the crowd (when they can) and enjoying the ride.

Mourinho is a defensive obsessed, Guardiola is a defensive genius

 

There is not much left to say about a Manchester derby that was played in the most foreseeable approach by both teams. One focused mainly in destroying (unsuccessfully trying) and one loyal to its principles and superbly combining both football moments, attacking and defending.

Many pundits, former players and columnists point out that Mourinho is a defensive genius because his teams’ set up manage to nullify their opponents very often, but ¿is someone really a genius when to focus in doing something has to completely surrender to perform with same level of excellence in the other side of the pitch?

Arsène Wenger was completely right, Mourinho has a fear of failure. Even more than that, he is afraid to lose football matches, something that even the best teams and managers are exposed to. Losing a game is normal in football and it helps the team to grow. If the approach you choose fits your players and aims in the direction of winning every match, losing will occur occasionally and there is no need for concern.

However, when the best home match of the season is played and Mourinho had the chance to reduce the gap with the leaders and make them doubt about their power, he elected to do what he repeatedly has done in the past with no success at all. To contain Manchester City scoring goals, something that this Sunday he didn’t even manage to, his team chances were reduced to almost none.

On the other hand, surprisingly, Guardiola can boast of excelling in both phases of football. His teams defend with the ball at their feet, away from their own goal, pressing, running and driving the opponent crazy. That’s not only his favorite way of playing the full 90 minutes thinking about the three points, but it is also his way of defending. A rare one, an exclusive one that only the most audacious managers are able to implement.

It works not only against a fearful rival like Mourinho, or a struggling team that parks the bus in front of their goalkeeper with the only hope to punish on the counter, on a mistake, or set pieces. It also works against teams that comes out to play with no fear, like Napoli, whose invincibility was shattered twice by Guardiola’s mastermind and his players astonishing performance.

Don’t ever dare to say the same again. Mourinho is a defensive obsessed (very unsuccessful in the process who blames the referee for his own disgraces), Guardiola is a true defensive genius.

Southampton and West Ham showed how to stop Man City. Mourinho will mimic their approach

Manchester City could finally escape with a victory from the tricky opposition they faced against Southampton and West Ham United last week. Both matches remained level until the end when Raheem Sterling and David Silva grabbed late winners.

Before that, Saints and Hammers managed to halt Citizens frenetic attack and reduce the number of City’s clear-cut opportunities, even though Fraser Forster and Adrián had to intervene relatively often to support their teams’ solid defensive display.

How could they almost do the miracle? Their defensive lines have the answer. Both Pellegrino and Moyes utilised a three-man back line aided by two fullbacks, plus another line of four very close ahead of them when they didn’t have possession of the ball. Manchester City’s watermark this season has been the seek of through balls between their wingers and their inner midfielders and they tried to desperately stick to it, but Southampton and West Ham smartly managed to break this kind of connections.
This tactic approach of course prevented them to create danger when getting the ball back and only could attack in isolated opportunities that were easily defended by Man City, but it’s reasonable that two struggling teams will be content with a point in the most difficult trip of the season. But, can we expect Manchester United to do the same?

Of course we can. Mourinho’s first and most important goal next Sunday in the derby will be to frustrate Manchester City’s torrid attack and try to punish on the counter or set pieces. But to play for a draw is not exactly what he needs the most at this stage of the season.

Manchester United trail City by eight points and have the chance to reduce that difference to five and inflict Pep’s team their first defeat of the season challenging their powers is perhaps what the Red Devils should look for. Man City have had a tough last ten days, Guardiola should be tormented trying to figure out if his team invincibility is finally threatened and what to do to maintain their slickness, so it is time for Mourinho to create more problems in his nemesis head instead of to giving him a quiet match with few defensive aspects to worry.

However, Mourinho has changed and he is no longer the manager that he used to be when at Inter Milan faced Chelsea and Barcelona in the Champions League using four defined attacking players. He has transformed into a manager for whom the “safety” of a 0-0 against a big rival is more appealing than the inherent and unavoidable risk of playing to win matches and not only content with frustrate the opponent.

One could understand that the best approach for Southampton and West Ham United was that of thinking first how to defend and then attack if they were left to, but should Mourinho mimic that line of play? He doesn’t care. He will just do it.